Load shed­ding and the eevee.

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE -

TWO years ago, Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Rob Davies an­nounced a whop­ping 35% re­im­burse­ment on pro­duc­tion costs over three years as an in­cen­tive for lo­cal elec­tric car man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Thus far, only Ethiopia and South Africa have at­tempted to launch elec­tric cars on the African con­ti­nent which some have hailed as an en­vi­ron­men­tal victory for both coun­tries. Eskom has al­ready taken de­liv­ery of elec­tric cars and in­stalled charg­ing sta­tions at its head of­fice and re­search fa­cil­ity to test the in­fra­struc­ture de­mands th­ese cars would place upon the grid.

How­ever, against the back­drop of re­cent power out­ages, we have to beg the ques­tion: does the elec­tric car still have a fu­ture in South Africa?

“Sadly, the fu­ture is not bright for elec­tric cars in South Africa,” says Jeff Os­borne, head of Gumtree Au­to­mo­tive. “At least not for the time be­ing.”

A bat­tery-re­liant elec­tric car can use more power than all your tele­vi­sions, com­put­ers, air con­di­tion­ing and swim­ming pool pumps in the home com­bined. “You may save on petrol, but con­sid­er­ing the in­crease in elec­tric­ity prices, there re­ally is no cost-ben­e­fit as of yet.”

The ad­di­tional de­mand placed on the elec­tric­ity grid is an­other con­cern.


Other coun­tries have in­cen­tivised users to charge their cars overnight with off-peak rates, when de­mand is low. How­ever, most of us want our cars to be ready at any mo­ment.

“Th­ese cars aren’t typ­i­cally widely dis­persed — you will find clus­ters of car own­ers in af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods. If all of them de­cide to power up be­fore work or on a Fri­day in prepa­ra­tion for the week­end, you could run into real prob­lems.”

But the chal­lenges are more far-reach­ing than our er­ratic power sup­ply, Os­borne ex­plains, in­clud­ing the fact that own­ing an elec­tric car can be im­prac­ti­cal for the av­er­age South Africa.

“The av­er­age elec­tric car is quite ex­pen­sive to pur­chase and to run (with pur­chase prices of be­tween R200 000 and R250 000 per ve­hi­cle), and time-con­sum­ing to charge. If you are us­ing a nor­mal house­hold plug, it can take eight to 12 hours to fully charge a flat bat­tery, and the range of a charged bat­tery is limited to about 150 to 200 km at best. Hope­fully there will a quick recharge sta­tion nearby — and even if there is, a quick recharge takes up to half an hour. You will have to plan ev­ery trip very care­fully.”

Bat­ter­ies also need to be re­placed ev­ery four to five years, which can be ex­tremely costly.


In other coun­tries where the up­take of elec­tric cars were more favourable, gov­ern­ments in­cen­tivised buy­ers by cov­er­ing the bulk of the cost of cus­tom home charge point in­stal­la­tion and grant­ing tax write-offs. “South Africa has made no men­tion of do­ing this lo­cally, although there has been a push by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs for public charg­ing sta­tions that will be pow­ered by so­lar pan­els. Of course, quick charg­ing draws huge cur­rents, which photo-voltaic pan­els may not be able to pro­vide,” says Os­borne. “It will take a huge capex in­vest­ment from fill­ing sta­tions to in­tro­duce charg­ing sta­tions and the profit mo­tive is low at the mo­ment.”

We should also not as­sume that elec­tric cars are the most ef­fec­tive means of “green­ing” our roads. “The car it­self does not gen­er­ate any car­bon emis­sions, but the pri­mary source of elec­tric­ity in South Africa is coal, which is a sig­nif­i­cant pol­lu­tant. You have to look at the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs for the cars’ en­tire life cy­cle, in­clud­ing where the power is go­ing to come from. If the grid is cleaner, the car would be cleaner.”

How­ever, Os­borne says it is still worth pur­su­ing re­search into elec­tric cars.

Prac­ti­cally, if you hope to lower your car­bon foot­print, con­sider buy­ing a hy­brid ve­hi­cle. “Hy­brid ve­hi­cles en­tered the South African mar­ket about five years ago, and we are see­ing qual­ity sec­ond­hand cars en­ter­ing this mar­ket.”

Os­borne adds that the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try has placed great em­pha­sis on en­cour­ag­ing and de­vel­op­ing the pro­duc­tion of hy­brid ve­hi­cles.

— Sup­plied.


Head of Gumtree Au­to­mo­tive “Sadly, the fu­ture is not bright for elec­tric cars in South Africa … You may save on petrol, but con­sid­er­ing the in­crease in elec­tric­ity prices, there re­ally is no cost-ben­e­fit as of yet.”

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